Thursday, November 29, 2012

Surin issues warning: South China Sea dispute could turn into Asia's Palestine

Surin Pitsuwan, the outgoing Asean secretary general, has come up with the strongest warning ever over the South China Sea disputes. He told Financial Times yesterday that the conflict risks turning into an "Asia's Palestine" issue -- that could deteriorate into a violent conflict that draws sharp dividing lines between nations and destabilises the whole region.
He said Asia was entering its "most contentious" period in recent years as a rising China stakes out its claim to almost the entire South China Sea, clashing with the Philippines, Vietnam and others.
He told the FT: "We have to be mindful of the fact that the South China Sea could evolve into another Palenstine" if countries do not try harder to defuse rather than inflame tensions.
The latest incident concerns China's decision to print a map of its extensive maritime claim, known as the "nine-dotted line" in new passports, prompting Vietnam to hit back by marketing the passports of visiting Chinese as "invalid." Vietnamese immigration officials have issued separate visa forms.
India has also protested. Other countries have found themselves in a dilemma as to what to do with the passports used by Chinese visitors.
The Thai Foreign Ministry says there is no issue for Thai immigration officials.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Nation's front page tomorrow

The clash at Makkawan Bridge

The anti-government rally today got off to a violent start when police used tear-gas to disperse the protesters who insisted on breaking the police barriers to get to the rally site at the Royal Plaza.
Later in the afternoon, "Seh Aye" Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, leader of Pitak Siam Group, declared on stage: "I am ready to die if I can't bring down this government with this rally."
Protestors clashed with police in the morning when tear-gas was fired. Police claimed that they had been "provoked" by the demonstrators who had fired tea-gas first.
Gen Boonlert charged that police had "over-reacted" and had unnecessarily resorted to the use of tear-gas.
Police said they had cordoned off areas near Makkawan Bridge to prevent the protesters from trying to get near Government House and Parliament Buildings.
Protestors used a truck to ram through the police barriers, forcing a violent confrontation between police and the demonstrators. Police at one point picked up about 100 protestors including a television cameraman and put them in a police truck.
Later in the afternoon, a new clash took place when the protestors at Royal Plaza asked police to clear the way for them to march to join force with demonstrators at Missakwan Intersection. Police pushed back the protestors and fired tear-gas when they resisted.
Red-shirt leader Thida Tavornseth went on Asia Update Channel to plead with red-shirt members to stay put and wait for signals from her, Nattawut Saikua and Jatuporn Prompan before making any move.
Premier Yingluck Shinawatra cancelled all her functions and stayed home to monitor the tense situation.
Sen Aye called off the rally at around 5.30 pm. He said the rally had failed to attract his target of one million people and he didn't want the protestors to be harmed. "See you again when the nation needs you! Goodbye for now."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thaksin's advice to businessmen: If you want to enter politics...

Former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra said in New Delhi yesterday that politicians should give up their business interests before entering politics.
He said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit:
"If you really want to enter politics, wash your hands of business. If you change too fast, there is resistance, especially when democracy is not mature."
He added that politics is for those who are willing to sacrifice, do not have anything to lose and are willing to do good for the country.
At the conference, Thaksin was asked questions about crony capitalism and allegatons that he was controlling Thailand remotely by using his sister as a proxy.
He responded: "It is a good excuse to accuse others of corruption. In my case, there is no corruption. It is a technique to keep me out of Thailand."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chalerm-reporter's war of words

Deputy Premier Chalerm Yoobamrung and Channel 7 reporter Somchit Kruanawasunthorn were engaged in a "war of words" today -- quite a rare happening. But considering the two's equally well-known gift of gab, it was quite surprising that the verbal clash only exploded today.
At one point during Chalerm's Q-A with reporters, Somchit asked him several questions about the upcoming anti-government rally by Pitak Siam Group. Chalerm told her: "You have been to the Democrat Party too often. You are overindulgent with the Democrat Party."
Somchit told him: "I can sue you for defamation if you say that."
Chalerm retorted: "What's libellous about that? If you think so, just report to police and have me arrested."
A few moments later, after Chalerm left the gathering, she followed him to shout: "What if I say you are Thaksin's slave? Would that he libellous?"
Chalerm shouted back: "Yes, that's libellous."
Somchit hit back: "Then, you go and report to police..."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The war is back

Nattawut Saikuao, deputy commerce minister and a red-shirt core leader, tells Matichon Daily that "the war is back."
He was referring to the emergence of the Pitak Siam Group led by retired Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit who has called a new rally for Nov 24, declaring that he expected "one million people" to turn up at this second gathering.
Nattawut doesn't believe Gen Boonlert is the real man behind the move. He says this new protest should have been led by Sondhi Limthongkul or Chamlong Srimuang of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) "but they are still bickering...that's why, they have to rely on Gen Boonlert."
The red-shirt leader insists that the "old mechanism" of the anti-Thaksin movement is still in place.
"A new war is imminent. We are ready for it," he declared.
In a column published in the same newspaper today, Vasit Dejkunchorn, a retired former deputy national police chief, asks: "Do we want to see another Day of Great Sorrow again?"
Police Gen Vasit has been writing columns against Thaksin in the past years.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Old soldiers never die...they get hooked into political games

Gen Chaisith Shinawatra, former army chief and one of former Premier Thaksin's cousins, standing second from right in the second row, heads alumni of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School in a meeting yesterday to declare their opposition gainst the Pitak Siam Group's move to hold a second anti-government rally.
The Pitak Siam Group is led by another retired general, Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, announced today that the second rally will be held on Nov 24, beginning at 9.01 am, at the Royal Plaza.
He said this will be the last rally to be held by his group and he hopes one million people will turn up.
Gen Boonlert says he isn't really worried about Gen Chaisith's move "because this group comprises only a minority of the military academic alumni. Besides, Gen Chaisith is related to Thaksin. So, there is nothing surprising about this move."
What it boils down to is the fact that the two old generals have decided to stand on opposite sides of Thaksin, for whatever reasons. Both sides have their own former classmates -- who have been persuaded to come out into the open to state their case over Thaksin.
They say old soldiers never die. They just play an old men's political game.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Who is supposed to know what?

Noppadon Pattama is Thaksin Shinawatra's "legal adviser." Surapong Tovijakchaikul is the foreign minister. Who do you think should know more about Thaksin's movements?

Officially, the foreign minister should be monitoring the former premier's travel plans. But he told reporters yesterday that he knew nothing about Thaksin's upcoming visit to Myanmar.

Noppadon, on the other hand, has all the details. He said Thaksin will be in Myanmar Nov 8-10. He will be meeting Myanmar President Thein Sein Nov 8 in Naypidaw. The next day, he will be meeting Thai businessman on the border and will also greet Thais who love Thaksin. On Nov 10, he will be at the border town of Tachilek, making merits at the Shwedagong replica and meeting red-shirts and Thais from across Amphoe Mae Sai of Chiang Rai province.

Sometimes, it seems ignorance is bliss, especially if it is deliberate lack of knowledge.

The holy triangle: The party, Cabinet, the red shirts

The new Yingluck Cabinet, the third in slightly over one year, doesn’t promise a big shakeup in terms of delivering an elevated performance.

The fact that 22 portfolios have been reshuffled doesn’t suggest a “comprehensive” improvement. It simply means the game of musical chairs has to be played all over again so that political debts could be settled and the “quota system” gets implemented more vigorously.

Premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s statement that there was no interference from her elder brother Thaksin (“I did it myself.”) was slightly much persuasive this time because her “inner circle” was retained, most notably Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Kittirat na Ranong and the surprise appointment of a professional physician Dr Pradit Sindhavanarong as the new public health minister.

Her decision to keep Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom probably is the most “risk” choice since that means she has denied herself the political wriggling room to get off the highly controversial, expensive and unsalvageable paddy mortgage scheme. The Opposition’s threat to submit a censure motion against the government next month will undoubtedly zero in on this “weakest link” of the Yingluck government.

Whether he gave any specific instructions to her sister or not, Thaksin’s grip on the new Cabinet remains strong. For one thing, his two most trusted men in the current Cabinet – Communications Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan and his deputy, Chatchart Sithipant – have been promoted to more powerful posts.

Charupong, who is also Pheu Thai Party’s secretary-general, has been moved to the influential interior portfolio while Chatchart has been elevated to the post as communications minister. Nobody should be surprised if Charupong is made the party’s leader to replace Yongyuth Vichaidit in the next party’s elections.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovijakchaikul, another trusted aide of Thaksin, not only retains his post but has also been offered an extra portfolio as deputy premier, presumably to boost his clout in domestic politics while expanding his role in the international scene.

The return of at least three prominent figures in the “Group of 111” to the Cabinet posts after their five-year political ban was lifted recently underscores Thaksin’s unmistakable hold on the Yingluck Cabinet.

Pongsak Raktapongpaisal, as the energy minister, Pongthep Thepkanchana in the education minister’s seat and Sermsak Pongpanich as his deputy all point to the consolidation of Thaksin’s power base.

Yingluck was said to have compiled the new Cabinet list very much in a rush, confining her consultations to a small circle of advisers and aides – for fear of “creating undesirable ripple effects” among those unhappy with the new line-up.

Not everything is plain sailing, though. The fact that red-shirt core leader Jatuporn Prompan has not made the list could well be a potential time-bomb. It remains unclear whether it’s Thaksin’s own decision or the strong opposition from Premier Yingluck that finally put Jatuporn’s name out of the new line-up. But some red-shirt core leaders, especially Thida Tavornseth, have already gone on the record as saying that they felt betrayed by Jatuporn’s being left out of the new Cabinet.

It was never a secret that Thaksin had one way or the other given the impression that Jatuporn would be given a Cabinet portfolio in this new reshuffle. Jatuporn himself did little to hide his disappointment. “I am ready to swallow blood,” he declared. In other words, he is ready to suffer the pain of rejection, but not in silence or alone.

Thaksin would have to do a lot of patching up with some of the red-shirt leaders to prevent them rocking the boat. Relations between certain red-shirt factions with the Yingluck Cabinet and the mainstream Pheu Thai Party leadership will become more tricky if cracks caused by the Cabinet shakeup get worse in the new power play.

One of the long-held beliefs in Thai politics is that very few governments are toppled by outside political force. Most political downfalls come from within. Whether or not Thaksin “interfered” in the drawing up of the new Cabinet list, he might be forced to “intervene” in the looming conflict between the party, the government and its own political front.